DisneySea buoyed by brand, other parks in uphill fight

Tokyo DisneySea, already buoyed by record profits at its parent company in Japan, hopes to lure still more fans with Fantasy Springs, a new themed section opening on June 6 that was unveiled to the media on Tuesday. Even with higher prices, business at Disney is booming — a stark contrast with other theme parks fighting for customers without the glitter of a global name.

Fantasy Springs, the largest addition to DisneySea since its 2001 opening, will bring to life the worlds of Walt Disney films "Frozen," "Tangled" and "Peter Pan" with new attractions. These include rides in a boat-shaped vehicle to follow stories and enter famous scenes, such as Rapunzel's Lantern Festival.

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Rapunzel's Lantern Festival viewed from a ride

Largest expansion of DisneySea

The attraction inspired by "Frozen" features a castle and an ice palace.
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Park operator Oriental Land says the new attractions cover some 140,000 square meters, the greatest enlargement since DisneySea opened 23 years ago, and came with a price tag of 320 billion yen, or about 2 billion dollars.

The Peter Pan area has a pirate ship for guests to explore, along with Peter Pan and Tinker Bell themed rides.

Oriental Land says total sales for fiscal 2023 were a record 618 billion yen, or about 4 billion dollars. The surge was largely driven by a ticket price hike and an increase in foreign visitors due partly to the weak yen.

The company says it expects Fantasy Springs to help boost sales this business year by an additional 10 percent.

Ticket hikes

One of the factors behind the operating company's strong performance is an increase in admission fees. For the past three years, the company has used a system that fluctuates on a daily basis, from 7,900 yen up to 10,900 yen for adults. The maximum ticket price is up to 1.7 times higher than 10 years ago.

The rise in entrance fees prompts concern among potential visitors, several of whom spoke about it at a train station near DisneySea. One woman said, "I often came when the ticket was in the 7,000-yen range, so the number of my visits has decreased significantly."

This woman says she can no longer visit as frequently as before due to the price.

At a news conference to announce its financial results, Oriental Land said sales per guest are expected to increase by 826 yen to 17,470 yen.

Bullish strategy benefits large parks: expert

An expert on the management of tourist facilities, Professor Yamaguchi Yuji of J.F. Oberlin University, says that while many people are unhappy with the price hike, which makes it harder to visit, others feel they get good value for their money.

Yamaguchi says analysis shows that large facilities able to compete via unit price are gaining the ability to fight for customers.

Package deal, discount tickets

While major facilities stride ahead with bold strategies, smaller ones without brand recognition are turning to innovations such as tie-ups.

Kamogawa Sea World, a water park and aquarium in Kamogawa City in Chiba Prefecture, decided to hike admission by 10 percent in 2023 due to rising costs.

Kamogawa Sea World is located right by the Pacific Ocean.

But the aquarium says it can't significantly raise admission because it fears this will turn away customers. Instead, it plans to sell a set of tickets including entrance to a tourist flower and animal farm in neighboring Futtsu City. The price will be 700 yen lower than buying the tickets separately.

Combined ticket named "Sheep and Orca"

Some visitors liked the idea, since they didn't know what other amusements there were in the area and the set of tickets piqued their interest.

Regional Benefits

Kamogawa Sea World also sells discount tickets for customers who come two days in a row, with half-price entrance for the second day. Since this means people would have to stay in southern Chiba prefecture, where the park is located, it will benefit the entire area.

Koga Sotaro, marketing manager at Kamogawa Sea World, says they want to cooperate with nearby amusements and make good use of their different strengths. He wants to boost tourism in the area as a whole, which would then be a plus for the entire region.

Koga Sotaro wants to boost tourism in southern Chiba as a whole.

Professor Yamaguchi says the cooperation of different tourist attractions in this way will enhance the overall appeal of Japan's tourism industry. Even though these efforts may not match what large-scale facilities have, it's still very important to improve what they offer in order to compete.

This is especially important given how well the major amusement areas are doing, he added.